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When I spent my summers at Hatteras during my younger years, Sunday was not only a day of rest, but also a day of restrictions, a day of contrasts, a day of conflicts, a day of enlightenment, and a day to thank God for it all. Someone was constantly reminding me that Sunday was God's day. I was sure God had appointed Grandmom to police His day to make certain that no one in the family did anything that was not appropriate. Often times, I resented the attention He received through out the day because it often interfered with what I wanted to do. I tried not to hold that resentment for too long because I did not want to go to hell.  At least that is what I thought would happen.  I learned a lot about hell from attending Sunday school and revival at the "down below" church, the Pentecostal Holiness Church.  I learned about heaven at the other church in village, the Methodist Church, although hell was discussed but with less frequency.

"Down below" was a local name given to the southern end of Hatteras village, an area that was also known as "sticky bottom."  Grandmom and Pop Pop grew up at "sticky bottom." They started their married life there, and that is where both their children, Essie and Naomi, were born. After the death of their parents, Grandmom and Pop Pop decided to move up the road. Grandmom wanted to live closer to her only surviving sister. They purchased a house and four acres of land for $400 on the front road that was directly across the way from Grandmom's sister, Katie.

Prior to the early 1950s, there were only two main roads on Hatteras, both of which were unpaved.  They were simply known as the front road, a sandy lane on the western side of the village near the sound, and the back road, a similar track on the eastern ocean side.  Both roads extended in more or less a north/south direction. Recently they have been given official names.  Before that, one always indicated his location in the village as up the road or down the road from some landmark along either of these thoroughfares.  Therefore, up the road and down the road were relative terms.  Up the road was north of any given landmark and down the road was south.

Before moving, Grandmom and Pop Pop attended the "down below" church.  It was just across the marsh from where they lived.  When they moved up the road, they joined the Methodist Church, which was closer to their home.  They attended regularly for a while but then stopped going.  Mama told me the reason was that Grandmom did not think her clothes were good enough for the Methodist Church. It seems that someone made fun of her frock one Sunday and that was the last time she attended. She never felt self conscious about her attire at the church located "down below," but since walking was their only method of transportation, the "down below" church was "just too far." The only time I ever saw Grandmom in a house of worship was at her funeral in the Methodist Church.  I saw Pop Pop there twice, once at Grandmom's funeral and then at this own.  However, that is not to say that they were not religious.

When electricity became available in the late ‘40s, Mama gave Pop Pop a radio as a Christmas present, and from that time on, early every Sunday morning, he tuned it to a station to hear some preachin'. There was never a Sunday at Hatteras that I was not awakened to gospel music blaring up the stairwell into my bedroom.  Usually by the time I came downstairs to eat breakfast, the preacher on the radio was in high gear.  I never understood a word he said.  To my ear, the preacher was yelling indistinguishable words and phrases while being constantly interrupted with a slew of “amends” and “hallelujahs” from his overly enthusiastic congregation. Pop Pop sat in his wooden rocking chair in the sitting room next to the radio, glued to every word the preacher was saying.  He was so attentive that I had no doubt that he understood what was being said. I assumed that when I got a little older I would be able to understand too.  But that was not the case.  As the years progressed, amen and hallelujah continued to be all I ever understood. I used to think, how could anyone understand what was being said with all the yelling going on?  I finally decided that Pop Pop did not really understand either. It was just something that helped him focus on God much the same way I did while attending church but not hearing the preacher. 

Sunday for Grandmom was no different from any other day as far as being attentive to the word of God.  She read her Bible everyday after dinner.  I shall never forget how impressed I was with her religious perseverance when one day she finished the last chapter of Revelation, closed her Bible, and said to me, "That makes 21 times that I have read this book from cover to cover."  I could not believe my ears.  How could anyone read a book that thick 21 times?  I had trouble concentrating after reading just a few verses.  I decided that she had to be the most religious person in the world. Not only because of the number of times she had read the "word," but also because she knew so many rules that God had laid down.  Like if you used scissors on Sunday, you would go to the "bad place."  She called hell the "bad place" when she was talking to children.  There was not a single fun thing that one could do on Sunday without risking eternal damnation.  Sitting on the piazza or visiting relatives on Sunday afternoon were about the safest activities.  My brother and I would occasionally talk Sister, our Aunt Essie, into taking us to the beach for a short swim.  Grandmom did object but not violently, which led me to believe that there was some confusion in the Bible as to just how sinful it was to swim on Sunday. 

She was so rigid in observing the Sabbath as a day of rest that she cooked her Sunday dinner on Saturday afternoon.  That way all she had to do was to warm it before serving it after Sister returned home from church. For supper that evening, we always ate cold leftovers. There must have been some rule in the Bible about using the cook stove only once on Sunday. 

After breakfast, my brother and I dressed in our Sunday clothes.  We always wore a "starched and ironed" shirt, long pants, socks, and shoes.  Sister gave us each a nickel and some pennies to put in the offering plate.  Offering was collected twice, once at the beginning of Sunday school when everyone in the church met in the sanctuary for a short service and then when we went to our individual classes, which were scattered about the church.  I never knew whether God wanted me to give the nickel in the sanctuary or in my class.  I usually gave it in the sanctuary. My brother kept his to buy candy with at the store on Monday.

Sister took her weekly bath on Sunday mornings in her bedroom.  Since we did not have indoor plumbing, she filled a ceramic washbowl with water and carried it upstairs to her bedroom.  She emerged a half-hour later smelling fresh as the ocean breeze.  She used Avon dusting powder whose fragrance I always associate with Sunday morning, just one of many Hatteras memories that I smell.  Her only makeup was Noxzema skin cream and lipstick.  For most of my childhood, her only Sunday dress was a light blue-and-white striped skirt with a matching jacket and a white blouse.  She wore hose and a pair of white slip-on shoes with low heels. She carried a small purse in which she carried some change that she gave to the church when the offering was collected.  Also included in the purse was a half of a stick of gum just in case she needed to freshen her breath between Sunday school and church. She was a soft-spoken, non-judgmental person who saw only good in everyone she knew. As she descended the steps from her bedroom, squeaky clean and dressed in her Sunday best, she was as close, in my mind, to being an angel as any human on earth.

Fifteen minutes before Sunday school began, Damon Junior rang the church bell.  Everyone in the village who attended used this as the cue to begin walking to church.  Sister, Clifford, and I walked together. By the time we got from the house to the sandy road, we met Aunt Maude, Aunt Ellen, and Aunt Violet, who were also going to church. They were not related to me.  It was just the custom to refer to all the women in the neighborhood as “aunt” and all the men as “uncle.” 

Like Pop Pop, none of the men in the neighborhood attended Sunday school or church.  Actually, very few men in the village did.  I often wondered why religion was more important to the women than to the men.  Many of the children attended Sunday school, but not necessarily church.  My brother and I went only to Sunday school.  Sister stayed for church.



Arriving at the church was a noteworthy scene.  It was the only day of the week when you so many people walking on the road from all directions.  Our convergence at the church reminded me of ants returning to an anthill.  Before entering the church, all the women stopped at the front. While leaning with one hand against the wall of the church for balance, they emptied the sand from their shoes with the other.  No sooner were we inside the sanctuary than Damon Junior tugged the rope attached to the bell in the steeple, which resulted in several rings signaling the beginning of Sunday school.

Each family member sat in designated areas of the sanctuary, according to the class of which he or she was a member.  Mr. Roy Gray, the superintendent of the Sunday school, stepped in front of the congregation.  His strong baritone voice echoed from the walls of the church. It had a pleasing, steadfast resonance that sounded to me like God himself.  He made a few announcements and told us to turn in our hymn books to number 145.  Miss Alice, Damon Junior's wife, who always played the piano in her stocking feet, struck several chords as an introduction and the congregation joyfully sang "The Old Rugged Cross."  "Bringing in the Sheaves," another wonderful old hymn, followed.  The voices in the congregation drifted through the opened windows of the church and bathed the village with the presence of God.  Hearing those hymns sung in the local dialect caused a lump to form in my throat and tears of joy to fill my eyes.  It was a sound that no longer exists.  With the influx of tourists, radio, television, and other outside influences, the old Hatteras dialect, the product of many years of isolation from the rest of the world, is all but extinct. 

After the offering plates were passed, Mr. Roy asked if anyone had celebrated a birthday during the past week.  Miss Inez, an older lady in the community, and Ursula, a friend of mine, proudly marched to the front of the church with their birthday offering, a penny for each year since their birth.  After everyone sang "Happy Birthday," Mr. Roy read a passage from the Bible, and we sang another hymn before he dismissed us to go to our classrooms. 

Miss Lizzy, a rather stern conservative lady in her early 70s, taught my brother's class.  Clifford and Miss Lizzy were like oil and water.  Nothing my brother did made her happy, and for him the feeling was mutual. 

Their enmity began one afternoon when Clifford was playing in the branches of an oak tree in front of Aunt Violet's house.  He hid on a limb of the tree that hung over the road, waiting for some unsuspecting person to happen along. Miss Lizzy was walking up the road to her home from the grocery store.  When she was almost directly under him, he dropped a device with an exploding cap in it at her feet.  The loud burst of the explosion scared her so badly that she threw the bag of groceries she was carrying in the air, scattering jars and boxes of food all over the road.  Even those who lived on the back road heard her scream.

  It never occurred to Clifford that she might react in such a manner.  He thought they would both have a big laugh, and it would be forgotten.  When she discovered Clifford, who was now somewhat embarrassed and frightened, clinging to the limb above the road, her shock turned to anger.  Clifford knew the moment the cap exploded that his action was inappropriate, but it was too late.  His only defense was a flat-out denial, swearing that he had never seen the device that now lay at Miss Lizzy's feet. His fabrication just added fuel to her volatile state.  They were antagonists from that moment on. 

Miss Lizzy began her Sunday school lesson by reading a few passages from Genesis about Noah and the ark.  When she read the part about Noah being 500 years old when the "begat" his three sons, Clifford challenged her. 

"Are you sure he was that old?"

"Why of course, it says so right here in the Bible," she responded as she pointed to the passage in Genesis 5, verse 32.

"Well, I ain't never heard of anyone living that long," Clifford stated.

Miss Lizzy went on with her story and was interrupted again when she read the part about the ark being constructed of gopherwood.

"What is gopherwood?"

Not really certain but not wanting to appear uninformed, she responded, "It is a special kind of wood."

"Well, I've heard of pine and hickory and walnut and mahogany, but I ain't never heard of no gopherwood. Nobody around here has a boat made of gopherwood, do they?  Are you sure you read that right?"

"Yes I did.  It says gopherwood right here in Genesis 6, verse 14."  Again she points to the passage while the other kids in the class snigger. Impatience began to flow through Miss Lizzy's veins.

When she told the children about the animals being brought on the ark two by two, Clifford interrupts again. Laying the foundation for Miss Lizzy's impending inquisition, he asks, "Where do polar bears live?"

 Without realizing where his questioning was headed, she answered, "At the North Pole."

"Were there polar bears on the ark?"

"Yes, of course, he put two of all kinds of animals on the ark."

"Did he go to the North Pole to get the Polar bears?"

"I suppose so."

"How far was it from the Holy Land to the North Pole?"

"Oh, I don't know.  A long ways I guess."

"How long did it take him to go there, catch the Polar bears, and come back to the ark?"

Miss Lizzy, a bit aggravated by his line of questioning, pretended she did not hear him, and she continued with her lesson. Again her challenger interrupted.

"Miss Lizzy, did he have any kangaroos on the ark?"

"Certainly, I told you he had two of every kind of animal."

"Where did he get the kangaroos from?"

"I suppose from somewhere nearby."

"I thought kangaroos live only in Australia.  Is the Holy Land near Australia?"

"No, Australia is an island continent between the Pacific and Indian oceans.  The Holy Land is a long way from there," Miss Lizzy proudly stated.  Her countenance showed a bit of pride because she finally had an undisputed answer for one of his questions.

"Then where did he get the kangaroos?" Clifford insisted.

The sniggering in the class stopped as the kids sat with puzzled expressions, waiting to find out just where Noah did get those kangaroos.  Miss Lizzy was backed in a corner, and she knew it.  As a matter of fact, it never crossed her mind to question anything that she read in the Bible.  She just accepted it. 

"You should not question the word of God," she firmly stated, while shaking her finger at Clifford and piercing him with her eyes.

In a feeble attempt to seem somewhat knowledgeable about Clifford's question, she added, "But, there are kangaroos all over. They are in zoos right here in this country.  I'm sure Noah had no trouble finding them where he was."

And on with the lesson she went, telling about Noah being 600 years old when he was told to build the ark; about it raining forty days and forty nights; about the ark floating for 150 days after the rain stopped; about Noah's sending the raven and then the dove from the ark in search of dry land; about the dove returning with the olive leaf, and finally about opening the ark for all the animals to "go forth and multiply."

At this point, Clifford jokingly said, "I'll bet that was one stinking ark."

The kids laughed, to Clifford's delight. 


When Miss Lizzy regained control of the class, she concluded her lesson by reading Genesis 8, verse 20.

And Noah builded an altar unto the
Lord; and took of every clean beast
and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt
offerings on the altar.

"After being shut up on that ark for 190 days or more, I'll bet he had trouble finding any clean beasts or fowl," Clifford jokingly added.

The class roared.  When the laughter subsided, Clifford interjected his final question before they were dismissed.  "It seems mighty silly to me after going to all that trouble to collect all those animals and keep them on the ark for more than 190 days that he would then turn around and burn some of them as an offering."  He paused as the neurons of his brain fired, resulting in his final query, which he stated as if he was on the verge of a brilliant discovery.  "Is that why there are no dinosaurs living today?"

The kids in the class looked at each other and back to Miss Lizzy for an answer.  There was a brief silence.  Slowly her expression developed an air of elation that often accompanies the discovery of a great truth.   She confidently replied, "Ab-so-lutely!"

Sunday school at the Holiness Church convened at 2 o’clock in the afternoon.  There was just enough time after dinner to walk the long distance down the road to the church and get there on time.   It was a long hot walk on a road that consisted of deep soft sand.

The Holiness Church was very different from the one we had attended just a few hours earlier. Compared to the larger Methodist Church, this church was a small, simple framed building with just two classrooms adjacent to the sanctuary.  The women who attended the Holiness Church dressed much simpler and had straighter hair that was usually twisted in a bun on the back of their head.  They did not wear lipstick or rouge. They weighed twice as much as the Methodist women, and sweated a lot more.  Most of them carried a clean, white handkerchief in their right hand. There were more men in attendance at this church, but the women still outnumbered the men.  Most of the congregation lived at "sticky bottom." 

While there was a gentle spirit at the Methodist Church, there were times when the spirit was completely out of control at the Holiness Church.  Miss Alice never abused the keys of her piano like the lady did who accompanied us as we sang hymns that afternoon.  At one time she hit the keys so hard that the floor gave way, swallowing the right back leg of the piano, causing it to teeter like a seesaw.  It must have been an act assisted by God because the preacher went crazy throwing his hands in the air and yelling, "Thank-a you, God-a.  Hallelujah.  Pa-raise-a his-a holy name-a."  That was something else that was different about the two churches.  Mr. Roy at the Methodist Church spoke English, while Reverend Culp spoke some variation of English, which almost sounded like pig Latin.  Mama taught me how to speak pig Latin, but the more I listened to Reverend Culp the more I realized that it must have been some other kind of Latin. I knew the Catholics used Latin when worshipping because my cousins used to attend Catholic school, and they told me they heard one of the sisters speaking it. 

Everyone at the Methodist Church remained seated during the entire morning service, but the Holiness folks had as much trouble staying in their seats as my younger brother did when he was in the first and second grade.  Every time the preacher started speaking whatever kind of Latin it was that he spoke, people jumped up from their seats, waved their hands in the air, and shouted along with him, while speaking the same language.  When the women sat back down, I heard the long wooden pews snap and crack under the sudden weight the church bench had to bear.  However, the benches proved to be much stronger than the floor under the piano.

As best as I could interpret, the topic of Reverend Culp's sermon was that all of us were going to burn in hell if we did not change our evil ways.  His subject certainly complemented the temperature of the afternoon.  It must have been 100 degrees inside the small, crowded sanctuary.  Midway through the service, I understood why the women were carrying handkerchiefs and why they were not wearing makeup.  They were sweating so much from jumping up and down and shouting in the heat that they needed the handkerchiefs to mop the perspiration from their face.  Wearing makeup would have been a waste of money, since it would have been washed away by their perspiration. 

The windows of the church were opened in an effort to relieve the heat by allowing an occasional gust of wind to enter from the ocean.  There were no screens on the windows to prevent mosquitoes and other flying insects from coming inside. Near the end of the service during one of the uncommon quieter times, Miss Liza, one of the larger parishioners, who wheezed with each breath she took, sucked a mosquito down her throat, which sent her into a coughing spasm.  She coughed so violently that her trachea began to convulse, making it very difficult for her to breathe.  In a desperate attempt to catch her breath, she jumped from her seat, desperately clutching her throat with one hand, while waving the other in the air. Reverend Culp interpreted her actions as having been moved by the Holy Spirit.  He motioned to the lady at the piano to start playing, "Lord, I'm Coming Home," at which time the entire congregation spontaneously started singing.  No one in the church but Miss Liza and a few others sitting near her knew just how appropriate that hymn was.  At the end of the service, Miss Liza gave a heart-rending testimony of how she had stared death in the face and had survived.  Her entire declaration was spoken in the same Latin that Reverend Culp used throughout his sermon.

As I lay in bed that Sunday night, I asked God to bless Grandmom, Pop Pop, Sister, Mama, Aunt Violet, Aunt Ellen, Aunt Maude, Mr. Roy, Damon Junior, Miss Alice, Miss Inez, Ursula, Miss Lizzy, Miss Liza, and Reverend Culp.  I asked him to bless my brother, Clifford, Noah, and all the animals in the ark.  I asked him to bless the people who lived down the road at "sticky bottom" and the people who lived up the road where we lived.  I thanked God for Hatteras, where I learned so much about life.  I also asked God to send me a sign like the rainbow he sent Noah if Miss Lizzy was telling the truth about the dinosaurs.


        

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